Mic, the formerly ascendent news source for cool hip youth who are too smart for Buzzfeed but too dumb for Vox, is reportedly selling itself to Bustle, a women’s lifestyle brand built on male cynicism. According to an initial report by Peter Kafka at Recode, Bustle “would consider bringing in half or less of the Mic staff.” Initial layoffs were announced at a staff meeting this morning, and now appear to include a majority of the company’s employees.
We’ve known Mic was considering a sale for a while now, but the layoffs are just breaking now, as is the identity of the potential buyer. According to The Information, Mic will be sold for less than $10 million, massively lower than previous valuations that were in the hundreds of millions. And the reason for this sale? A cancelled Facebook deal. From Peter’s original article:
The Facebook deal was part of a news video initiative championed by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s global head of news partnerships. Sources say it could have paid Mic around $5 million over the course of 12 months. Potential sales and funding rounds went away after Facebook didn’t renew, according to people familiar with Mic, leaving the publisher with limited options.
Mic’s struggles both financially and internally have been well-documented in past months, so I don’t want to dwell on them. However, it is striking to see a company that scored an interview with a sitting President, one that hired a team of some of the most influential web video pioneers, and one that has an progressive ideology that seems so uniquely tuned to this political moment flame out so hard.
Insincere wokeness and hypocritical management aside, Mic is ultimately another causality of the media’s fetishization of social media engagement. This gold rush has taken a number of smaller media companies out of business. Mic may be doomed to a lifetime of creating social justice top ten videos alongside the zombified corpse of Gawker, but this fate will still be better off than some of its contemporaries.
Remember Upworthy? Laid off the majority of its editorial team earlier this year. Refinery29 is cratering. Slate reported a massive traffic dip after Facebook changed their algorithms to be less news-heavy. Even presumed giants like Buzzfeed, Vice, and Vox have missed revenue targets and undergone layoffs because of the social media trap.
All of these companies, and especially Mic, grew rapidly over a five year period because Facebook seemed like an infinite source of traffic. But shares on Facebook ultimately seems to have failed in creating a sustainable audience that would visit any of these sites if they didn’t see a link in their newsfeed. This is to say nothing of the video traffic that Facebook outright falsified, creating a giant-text-over-stock-footage video bubble that anyone who actually appreciates good things should’ve been able to predict a mile away. The siren call of easy traffic led to a number of desperate college-students-turned-MBAs to doom, and now the journalists who work for them are going to suffer for it.
Mic may be the first of these digital media giants to endure a painful sale, but don’t expect it to be the last.